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How can you tell if you have kidney stones?

Kidney stones are hard deposits of minerals and salts that form inside your kidneys. They can be incredibly painful and may cause a variety of symptoms. Understanding these symptoms, the causes and the treatments available can help you manage and prevent kidney stones more effectively.

Key Takeaways

  • Kidney stones can cause severe pain that starts suddenly, usually in your belly or one side of your back.
  • Symptoms may include changes in urine colour, nausea, vomiting, fever, and chills.
  • There are different types of kidney stones, including calcium, uric acid, and struvite stones.
  • Diagnostic procedures such as imaging tests, urine analysis, and blood tests are essential for confirming the presence of kidney stones.
  • Depending on the size and type of the stone, treatment options range from medication and lifestyle changes to surgical procedures.

Recognizing the Symptoms of Kidney Stones

Pain in the Back or Side

One of the most common kidney stone symptoms is severe pain in the back or side. This pain often starts suddenly and can be extremely intense. It may also radiate to the lower abdomen or groin area. The pain can come in waves and vary in intensity.

Changes in Urine Color

Changes in urine colour are another indicator of kidney stones. You may notice your urine becoming pink, red, or brown, indicating blood presence. Additionally, urine may appear cloudy or have a foul smell.

Nausea and Vomiting

Nausea and vomiting are also common renal calculi symptoms. These symptoms occur due to the intense pain and discomfort caused by the stones. In some cases, the nausea can be so severe that it leads to vomiting.

If you experience any of these kidney stones symptoms, it is crucial to seek medical attention promptly to avoid complications.

Understanding the Causes of Kidney Stones

Kidney stones often have no definite cause, although several factors may increase your risk. Kidney stones form when your urine contains more crystal-forming substances — such as calcium, oxalate, and uric acid — than the fluid in your urine can dilute. At the same time, your urine may lack substances that prevent crystals from sticking together, creating an ideal environment for kidney stones to form.

When to Seek Medical Attention

Recognizing when to seek medical attention for kidney stones is crucial for preventing complications and ensuring timely treatment. Seek immediate medical attention if you experience any of the following symptoms:

Severe Pain Episodes

If you have pain so severe that you can’t sit still or find a comfortable position, it is essential to seek medical help. This level of pain can indicate a serious issue that requires prompt attention.

Persistent Symptoms

Persistent symptoms such as blood in your urine or difficulty passing urine should not be ignored. These symptoms can signal that the kidney stone is causing significant blockage or damage.

Fever and Chills

Pain accompanied by fever and chills can be a sign of an infection or other serious complication. It is important to get medical help right away in such cases.

If you experience any of these symptoms, do not delay in seeking medical attention. Early intervention can prevent further complications and improve outcomes.

Diagnostic Procedures for Kidney Stones

Imaging Tests

To diagnose kidney stones, doctors often rely on imaging tests. These tests help determine the size and location of the stones. Common imaging tests include:

  • CT scan: Provides a detailed image of the kidneys, ureters, and bladder.
  • Ultrasound: Uses sound waves to create images of the kidneys and detect stones.
  • KUB x-ray: An x-ray of the kidneys, ureters, and bladder to show the size and position of the stone.

Urine Analysis

Urine analysis is another crucial diagnostic tool. It helps identify if substances in the urine can form stones. This test can detect:

  • Blood in the urine
  • Crystals that form stones
  • High levels of minerals like calcium or uric acid

Blood Tests

Blood tests are used to check for high levels of substances that can lead to kidney stones. These tests can measure:

  • Calcium levels
  • Uric acid levels

Understanding how doctors diagnose kidney stones can help you better prepare for your medical appointments and treatment plans.

Treatment Options for Kidney Stones


For small stones that are likely to pass on their own, your healthcare provider may recommend medications to help manage symptoms and facilitate the passage of the stone. Common medications include:

  • Allopurinol (for uric acid stones)
  • Antibiotics (for struvite stones)
  • Diuretics (water pills)
  • Phosphate solutions
  • Sodium bicarbonate or sodium citrate
  • Tamsulosin relaxes the ureter and helps the stone pass

Surgical Procedures

Surgery is often needed if the stone is too large to pass on its own, is growing, is blocking urine flow, or if the pain cannot be controlled. There are several options for kidney stone surgery, including:

  • Shock wave lithotripsy
  • Ureteroscopy
  • Percutaneous nephrolithotomy/nephrolithotripsy

Lifestyle Changes

Lifestyle changes are often recommended to prevent the recurrence of stones in the kidney. These may include:

  • Increasing water intake to stay well-hydrated
  • Making dietary adjustments to reduce the intake of stone-forming substances
  • Regular medical check-ups to monitor kidney health

It’s crucial to follow your healthcare provider’s advice to manage and prevent kidney stones effectively.

Preventive Measures for Kidney Stones

Dietary Adjustments

The things you eat and drink can significantly impact your risk for kidney stones. Limiting foods high in sugar and sodium can be beneficial. Additionally, if you have calcium oxalate stones, your provider might recommend you avoid foods like spinach, rhubarb, wheat bran, tree nuts, and peanuts. Eating foods that are good sources of calcium can also help prevent kidney stones.


Drinking plenty of water is crucial in preventing kidney stones. Aim to drink 6 to 8 glasses of water per day to produce enough urine. Staying well-hydrated helps to dilute the substances in urine that lead to stones.

Regular Medical Check-ups

If you have a history of stones, regular medical check-ups are essential. Your healthcare provider may want to do blood and urine tests to help determine the proper prevention steps. They might also recommend certain medicines to help prevent kidney stones. Talk to your healthcare team to learn more about these medicines and if they may be an option for you.

Prevention of kidney stones may include a combination of lifestyle changes and medications.

Complications Associated with Kidney Stones

Urinary Tract Infections

Kidney stones can increase the risk of developing frequent urinary tract infections (UTIs). This occurs when stones obstruct the flow of urine, creating an environment conducive to bacterial growth.

Kidney Damage

If left untreated, kidney stones can lead to significant kidney damage. Recurrent renal calculi can damage the tubular epithelial cells, leading to functional loss of the renal system. This can result in chronic kidney disease (CKD) or even acute kidney injury, which, although potentially reversible, poses serious health risks.

Recurrent Stones

Individuals who have had a kidney stone are at a higher risk of developing recurrent stones. This is particularly true if the underlying cause of the stones is not identified and managed. Recurrent stones can lead to ongoing complications, including persistent pain and further kidney damage.

Serious complications from kidney stones are rare when addressed early but can be severe if left untreated.


Kidney stones are a common yet painful condition that can significantly impact your quality of life. Recognizing the symptoms, such as severe pain in the back or abdomen, frequent urination, and changes in urine colour, is crucial for timely diagnosis and treatment. If you suspect you have kidney stones, it is imperative to seek medical attention promptly. A healthcare professional can provide a definitive diagnosis and recommend appropriate treatment options to alleviate your symptoms and prevent complications. Early intervention can make a substantial difference in managing this condition effectively.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the common symptoms of kidney stones?

Common symptoms include severe pain in the back or side, pain that moves to the lower belly, frequent urination, pain while urinating, cloudy or discoloured urine, nausea, vomiting, fever, and chills.

How are kidney stones diagnosed?

Kidney stones are diagnosed through various methods, such as imaging tests (like CT scans or X-rays), urine analysis, and blood tests. A doctor will determine the appropriate tests based on your symptoms.

What causes kidney stones to form?

Kidney stones form when your urine contains high levels of certain substances, such as calcium, oxalate, and uric acid, which can crystallize and stick together. Dehydration, diet, and genetics are common contributing factors.

When should I seek medical attention for kidney stones?

You should seek medical attention if you experience severe pain, persistent symptoms, or if you have fever and chills. These could indicate complications that require prompt medical intervention.

What treatment options are available for kidney stones?

Treatment options include medication to manage pain and facilitate stone passage, surgical procedures to remove or break up larger stones, and lifestyle changes to prevent recurrence, such as dietary adjustments and increased hydration.

How can I prevent kidney stones from forming?

Preventive measures include staying well-hydrated, making dietary adjustments to reduce intake of stone-forming substances, and having regular medical check-ups to monitor your kidney health.

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